Famously, the Soviet Union destroyed itself by trying to match western military capabilities, despite not having the economy to support its lofty ambitions.
A new RAND report claims the Chinese have learned from this mistake. And they are aiming higher.
Beijing seeks not parity, but supremacy - preparing to defeat the US, and its allies, in any future conflict.
"The PLA appears not to compete in certain areas because it does not need certain capabilities to accomplish its directed mission, or it has other means to address the military problem at hand," researcher Scott Harold writes.